Vladislav Surkov: Portrait of the Kremlin Demiurge

vladislav-surkov-2

In his Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia, Peter Pomerantsev describes Vladislav Surkov in a singular portrait:

Though we are expecting Vladislav Surkov, the man known as the “Kremlin demiurge,” who has “privatized the Russian political system,” to enter from the front of the university auditorium, he surprises us all by striding in from the back. He’s got his famous Cheshire Cat smile on. He’s wearing a white shirt and a leather jacket that is part Joy Division and part 1930s commissar. He walks straight to the stage in front of an audience of PhD students, professors, journalists, and politicians.

“I am the author, or one of the authors, of the new Russian system,” he tells us by way of introduction. “My portfolio at the Kremlin and in government has included ideology, media, political parties, religion, modernization, innovation, foreign relations, and . . . ” here he pauses and smiles, “modern art.” He offers to not make a speech, instead welcoming the audience to pose questions and have an open discussion. After the first question he talks for almost forty-five minutes, leaving hardly any time for questions after all. It’s his political system in miniature: democratic rhetoric and undemocratic intent.

As former deputy head of the presidential administration, later deputy prime minister and then assistant to the President on foreign affairs, Surkov has directed Russian society like one great reality show. He claps once and a new political party appears. He claps again and creates Nashi, the Russian equivalent of the Hitler Youth, who are trained for street battles with potential prodemocracy supporters and burn books by unpatriotic writers on Red Square. As deputy head of the administration he would meet once a week with the heads of the television channels in his Kremlin office, instructing them on whom to attack and whom to defend, who is allowed on TV and who is banned, how the President is to be presented, and the very language and categories the country thinks and feels in. The Ostankino TV presenters, instructed by Surkov, pluck a theme (oligarchs, America, the Middle East) and speak for twenty minutes, hinting, nudging, winking, insinuating though rarely ever saying anything directly, repeating words like “them” and “the enemy” endlessly until they are imprinted on the mind. They repeat the great mantras of the era: the President is the President of “stability,” the antithesis to the era of “confusion and twilight” in the 1990s. “Stability”—the word is repeated again and again in a myriad seemingly irrelevant contexts until it echoes and tolls like a great bell and seems to mean everything good; anyone who opposes the President is an enemy of the great God of “stability.” “Effective manager,” a term quarried from Western corporate speak, is transmuted into a term to venerate the President as the most “effective manager” of all. “Effective” becomes the raison d’être for everything: Stalin was an “effective manager” who had to make sacrifices for the sake of being “effective.” The words trickle into the streets: “Our relationship is not effective” lovers tell each other when they break up. “Effective,” “stability”: no one can quite define what they actually mean, and as the city transforms and surges, everyone senses things are the very opposite of stable, and certainly nothing is “effective,” but the way Surkov and his puppets use them the words have taken on a life of their own and act like falling axes over anyone who is in any way disloyal.

One of Surkov’s many nicknames is the “political technologist of all of Rus.” Political technologists are the new Russian name for a very old profession: viziers, gray cardinals, wizards of Oz. They first emerged in the mid-1990s, knocking on the gates of power like pied pipers, bowing low and offering their services to explain the world and whispering that they could reinvent it. They inherited a very Soviet tradition of top-down governance and tsarist practices of co-opting antistate actors (anarchists in the nineteenth century, neo-Nazis and religious fanatics now), all fused with the latest thinking in television, advertising, and black PR. Their first clients were actually Russian modernizers: in 1996 the political technologists, coordinated by Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch nicknamed the “Godfather of the Kremlin” and the man who first understood the power of television in Russia, managed to win then President Boris Yeltsin a seemingly lost election by persuading the nation he was the only man who could save it from a return to revanchist Communism and new fascism. They produced TV scare-stories of looming pogroms and conjured fake Far Right parties, insinuating that the other candidate was a Stalinist (he was actually more a socialist democrat), to help create the mirage of a looming “red-brown” menace.

Living in the world of Surkov and the political technologists, I find myself increasingly confused. Recently my salary almost doubled. On top of directing shows for TNT, I have been doing some work for a new media house called SNOB, which encompasses TV channels and magazines and a gated online community for the country’s most brilliant minds. It is meant to foster a new type of “global Russian,” a new class who will fight for all things Western and liberal in the country. It is financed by one of Russia’s richest men, the oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, who also owns the Brooklyn Nets. I have been hired as a “consultant” for one of SNOB’s TV channels. I write interminable notes and strategies and flowcharts, though nothing ever seems to happen. But I get paid. And the offices, where I drop in several times a week to talk about “unique selling points” and “high production values,” are like some sort of hipster fantasy: set in a converted factory, the open brickwork left untouched, the huge arches of the giant windows preserved, with edit suites and open plan offices built in delicately. The employees are the children of Soviet intelligentsia, with perfect English and vocal in their criticism of the regime. The deputy editor is a well-known American Russian activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, and her articles in glossy Western magazines attack the President vociferously. But for all the opposition posturing of SNOB, it’s also clear there is no way a project so high profile could have been created without the Kremlin’s blessing. Is this not just the sort of “managed” opposition the Kremlin is very comfortable with? On the one hand allowing liberals to feel they have a free voice and a home (and a paycheck), on the other helping the Kremlin define the “opposition” as hipster Muscovites, out of touch with “ordinary” Russians, obsessed with “marginal” issues such as gay rights (in a homophobic country). The very name of the project, “SNOB,” though meant ironically, already defines us as a potential object of hate. And for all the anti-Kremlin rants on SNOB, we never actually do any real investigative journalism, find out any hard facts about money stolen from the state budget: in twenty-first-century Russia you are allowed to say anything you want as long as you don’t follow the corruption trail. After work I sit with my colleagues, drinking and talking: Are we the opposition? Are we helping Russia become a freer place? Or are we actually a Kremlin project strengthening the President? Actually doing damage to the cause of liberty? Or are we both? A card to be played?1


  1. Peter Pomerantsev. Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia (Kindle Locations 1024-1042). Perseus Books, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Our Future / Our Past

Crash Space: The Coming Age of Machinic Intelligence

We exchanged a flurry of texts. We weren’t idiots. We knew full well the gravity of what had happened. But we also knew we had nothing to fear, and very little to cover up.

—R. Scott Bakker, Crash Space

Anyone still believing that the “blunt tool” of mass surveillance is protecting us from terrorists should read the Washington Post’s two-year investigation of “Top Secret America.” The detailed series of articles suggested that the United States’ massive surveillance system could possibly make us more vulnerable to terrorism:

“Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States. Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year— a volume so large that many are routinely ignored. In the Department of Defense, where more than two-thirds of the intelligence programs reside, only a handful of senior officials— called Super Users— have the ability to even know about all the department’s activities. “I’m not going to live long enough to be briefed on everything” was how one Super User put it. The other (Super User) recounted that for his initial briefing, he was escorted into a tiny, dark room, seated at a small table and told he couldn’t take notes. Program after program began flashing on a screen, he said, until he yelled “Stop!” in frustration. “I wasn’t remembering any of it,” he said.

Billions of personal details about the general population, collected by computers, can overwhelm those officials looking for a particular suspect. As the New America Foundation report indicated, most terrorists are caught using “traditional investigative methods, such as the use of informants, tips from local communities, and targeted intelligence operations . . .”

In the coming years all human intelligence will become mute, AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) machinic systems and the decisions made upon such data depend will be done more “efficiently” through rule based normative functional algorithms, making matrices that will be invented by the artificial minds themselves. All surveillance and Global Security Systems will be in the hands of the AGI’s, since humans such as the SuperUser above will not have the necessary processing power to absorb, much less decide on, filter, collate, and analyze such massive Big Data as will be collected in such great Data Centers as the one being built in Utah.

We’ve entered that strange transitional age when we are as humans obsolescing our own intelligence in favor of machinic gods who will have no sense of our cultural or social value systems, only the algorithmic targeting capabilities of seek and destroy policing of the animal called man. We are building the cages of the future, and enforcing a new breed of policing agents in the frontiers of our brave new worlds of machinic being. Through our fear of terror, we are producing greater terrors. From economics to security the deep-learning algorithms and other plasticity based systems of self-transforming and feed-back systems based on endless rhizomatic loops will surpass our capabilities and move beyond our ability to control or constrain. What then?

Stephen Hawking fears it, saying: “It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he said. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.” Tesla CEO and famous technology innovator Elon Musk has repeatedly warned about AI threats. In June, he said on CNBC that he had invested in AI research because “I like to just keep an eye on what’s going on with artificial intelligence. I think there is a potential dangerous outcome there.” He went on to invoke The Terminator. In August, he tweeted that “We need to be super careful with AI. Potentially more dangerous than nukes.” And at a recent MIT symposium, Musk dubbed AI an “existential threat” to the human race and a “demon” that foolish scientists and technologists are “summoning.” Musk likened the idea of control over such a force to the delusions of “guy[s] with a pentagram and holy water” who are sure they can control a supernatural force—until it devours them. As Musk himself suggests elsewhere in his remarks, the solution to the problem lies in sober and considered collaboration between scientists and policymakers. So much for Enlightenment? But these are the extremes, other voices say other things, and the process of making such systems seems inevitable with so many nations and corporations investing so heavily into every aspect of robotics, war machines, and AGI related systems for profit or sex or power.

Mass surveillance programs are run by machines or persons trained to act like machines. Targeted intelligence operations are run by experienced security agents who are allowed to use the knowledge gained through years of training. In the future our urban zones will become more and more integrated into smart infrastructures where the electronic eyes, ear, scent, and prosthetic appendages of sensory outlays once part of the human body will become externalized into the very objects of common everyday work around us. The systems that will shape and secure our systems of command and control within the urban workplace will be a part of a vast integrated system of artificial intelligent centers that will run everything from our basic needs to the most criminal policing enterprise the world has ever seen. It will be invisible, part of the background, so virtualized that we will not even be aware that we’ve become part of a Planetary Prison system that we ourselves built and handed over to the Great Artificial General Intelligent systems to come. To call this paranoiac is to enter into inhuman territory of mind and thought which that term was only a simplified interdiction onto the human, not the machinic.

Watching the recent craze of mobile to mobile Pokémon Go we’ve entered the moment when the virtual is seeping into our world, when men, women, and children stare into the screens of their hand held systems as if they were more real than the world around them. Even criminals have hopped on the wagon. Armed robbers used the game Pokémon Go to lure victims to an isolated trap in Missouri, police reported on Sunday. Pokémon Go warns players to keep aware of their surroundings during their virtual treasure hunt, but after only a few days since its release it has already led people into a string of bizarre incidents. People have ended up in hospitals after chasing nonexistent animals into hazardous spots, and schools, a state agency and Australian police have warned people not to break the law or endanger themselves while “Pokemoning”. The game has also led wanderers to at least one home misidentified as a church, a venue the app considers a public space.

We are so desperate to fill the gap of our meaningless world with meaning, that the virtual worlds of our electronic media are beginning to supervene onto reality and control our very bodies and behaviors. We’ve allowed the virtual to become our reality and left the old worlds of natural existence behind, and yet those world impinge upon our false realms in dangerous and untold ways. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher who directs the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, describes the following scenario in his book Superintelligence, which has prompted a great deal of debate about the future of artificial intelligence. Bostrom believes that superintelligence could emerge, and while it could be great, he thinks it could also decide it doesn’t need humans around. Or do any number of other things that destroy the world. The title of chapter 8 is: “Is the default outcome doom?” As Paul Ford recently at MIT stated: “No one is suggesting that anything like superintelligence exists now. In fact, we still have nothing approaching a general-purpose artificial intelligence or even a clear path to how it could be achieved. Recent advances in AI, from automated assistants such as Apple’s Siri to Google’s driverless cars, also reveal the technology’s severe limitations; both can be thrown off by situations that they haven’t encountered before. Artificial neural networks can learn for themselves to recognize cats in photos. But they must be shown hundreds of thousands of examples and still end up much less accurate at spotting cats than a child.” (Our Fear of Artificial Intelligence)

Others like Rodney Brooks tell us hogwash, we have nothing to fear. Extrapolating from the state of AI today to suggest that superintelligence is looming is “comparable to seeing more efficient internal combustion engines appearing and jumping to the conclusion that warp drives are just around the corner,” Brooks wrote recently on Edge.org. “Malevolent AI” is nothing to worry about, he says, for a few hundred years at least. Yet, others like Stuart J. Russell, a professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley disagree with Brooks, saying: ““There are a lot of supposedly smart public intellectuals who just haven’t a clue.”  He pointed out that AI has advanced tremendously in the last decade, and that while the public might understand progress in terms of Moore’s Law (faster computers are doing more), in fact recent AI work has been fundamental, with techniques like deep learning laying the groundwork for computers that can automatically increase their understanding of the world around them.

As Ford concludes we have no technology that is remotely close to superintelligence. Then again, many of the largest corporations in the world are deeply invested in making their computers more intelligent; a true AI would give any one of these companies an unbelievable advantage. They also should be attuned to its potential downsides and figuring out how to avoid them. This somewhat more nuanced suggestion—without any claims of a looming AI-mageddon—is the basis of an open letter on the website of the Future of Life Institute, the group that got Musk’s donation. Rather than warning of existential disaster, the letter calls for more research into reaping the benefits of AI “while avoiding potential pitfalls.”

Agency: Human or Artificial?

It is not that reality entered our image: the image entered and shattered our reality (i.e. the symbolic coordinates which determine what we experience as reality). What this means is that the dialectic of semblance and Real cannot be reduced to the rather elementary fact that the virtualization of our daily lives, the experience that we are more and more living in an artificially constructed universe, gives rise to the irresistible urge to ‘return to the Real’, to regain the firm ground in some ‘real reality.’ THE REAL WHICH RETURNS HAS THE STATUS OF A(NOTHER) SEMBLANCE: precisely because it is real, i.e. on account of its traumatic/excessive character, we are unable to integrate it into (what we experience as) our reality, and are therefore compelled to experience it as a nightmarish apparition.

—Slavoj Žižek. Disparities

This sense of loss of reality and the nightmare quality of our lives in this weird world of the artificial seems to pervade every aspect of our socio-cultural lives. Our politics has turned south, gone under into a nightmare zone of strangeness across the First World. People that have sensed this nightmare surrounding them have been desperate to return to the old ways of our ancestral realms in any form or fashion. Ergo, the reason for traditionalist values and pundits on the Right of the spectrum have arisen because of this vacuum in peoples lives living in the artificial worlds of the modern urban megacities where every form of existence has become plastic and plasticity as a thought form has become all too real. Sex and Race pervade our politics now because the barriers of the fantasy worlds of the old mythologies of Monotheism no longer hold, not longer feed people what they need to give their lives meaning. We’ve been demythologizing and leaving these ancient systems behind for a few hundred years. Yet, in small pockets they  hold on fiercely and adamantly in certain traditionalist camps.

Catherine Malabou explains in Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing, the concept of plasticity, whose scope and stakes are firmly inscribed in those of our era, has overtaken the schemas of text and the trace. Plasticity “takes over” and “becomes the resistance of difference to its textual reduction.” In The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, Malabou expands her reflection to cerebral pathologies, particularly Alzheimer’s disease. She hosts a dialog between philosophy, psychoanalysis and contemporary neurology, offering to demonstrate how cerebral organization presides over a libidinal economy in current psychopathologies. She also proposes a new theory of trauma and defends the hypothesis of destructive plasticity. In her latest book, Self and Emotional Life, Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience, written with Adrian Johnston, Malabou continues her exquisite crossing of disciplines, this time in order to explore the concept of wonder.

Without using all the jargon of postmodern shibboleths neuroplasticity in brain and mind is a term that refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. When people say that the brain possesses plasticity, they are not suggesting that the brain is similar to plastic. Neuro represents neurons, the nerve cells that are the building blocks of the brain and nervous system, and plasticity refers to the brain’s malleability. There’s both a functional and structural aspect to this neuroplasticity, one which allows other parts of the brain to take over the functions of diseased or traumatized areas (functional); and, the other (structural) refers to the brain’s ability to actually change its physical structure as a result of learning.

Our notions of agency have over the years changed, and the notions of Subject and Self have come under great scrutiny in philosophy and neurosciences. N. Katherine Hayles once suggested that if on the one hand humans are like machines, whether figured as cellular automata or Turing machines, then agency cannot be securely located in the conscious mind. If on the other hand machines are like biological organisms, then they must possess the effects of agency even though they are not conscious. In these reconfigurations, desire and language, both intimately connected with agency, are understood in new ways. Acting as a free-floating agent, desire is nevertheless anchored in mechanistic operations, a suggestion Guattari makes in “Machinic Heterogenesis.” Language, emerging from the operations of the unconscious figured as a Turing machine, creates expressions of desire that in their origin are always already interpenetrated by the mechanistic, no matter how human they seem. Finally, if desire and the agency springing from it are at bottom nothing more than performance of binary code, then computers can have agency fully as authentic as humans. Through these reconfigurations, Deleuze, Guattari, and Lacan use automata to challenge human agency and in the process represent automata as agents.1

If our binary and / or algorithmic systems can already be thought to have agency, what of the more advanced AGI’s that even in their primitive beginnings during our experimental age are already surpassing human intelligence? Many guffaw such surpassing of the human as wishful thinking, as imposing upon the machinic world of things our anthropomorphic thought forms. But is this so? Are we not actually following the trajectory of two thousand years of technics and technology that has always gone hand in hand with human culture and civilization? Isn’t there always a sense of a two-way interactive oscillation between human agency and its creations? Isn’t this dialectical interplay between machine and human always already been a part of the human instrumentalism that was to eventually be termed science?  Our elite pundits have tried to spin a story that the Enlightenment was an aberration, that instrumental reason was no more than culturally bound entity, and that it too would be sloughed off for something else. What is this something else if not the AGI’s we are now inventing out of necessity at our own unsurmountable finitude? Building such superintelligences because our own abilities as creatures of finitude and limitation cannot surpass certain barriers due to evolutionary bindings? Because we have created such a desperate need for decomplexifying the data of our world in all its multifarious complexity?

The notion of Agency and Subject developed by Deleuze, Guattari, and Lacan, is a subject in which consciousness, far from being the seat of agency, is left to speculate on why she acts as she does. She is increasingly aware that the origin of agency lies beyond the reach of consciousness, enacted by a computational program that is ultimately controlled by the external agent that has programmed the code to operate as it does. Even at this deep level the ambiguity of agency continues, for program is perceived to act both as an agent on its own behalf and as the surrogate for the will of the human. The ambiguity is repeated within consciousness, where she perceives herself to be exercising agency in the margins, as it were, the grey areas where the objectives of code might be implemented in ambiguous ways. In these complex reconfigurations of agency, the significance of envisioning the unconscious as a program rather than as a dark mirror of consciousness can scarcely be overstated, for it locates the hidden springs of action in the brute machinic operations of code. In this view, such visions of the unconscious as Freud’s repressed Oedipal conflicts or Jung’s collective archetypes seem hopelessly anthropomorphic, for they populate the unconscious with ideas comfortingly familiar to consciousness rather than the much more alien operations of machinic code. (43)

Blindness and Insight: Beyond the Hum of Machines?

Antonio Damasio, argue that body and mind are inextricably linked through multiple recursive feedback loops mediated by neurotransmitters, systems that have no physical analogues in computers. Damasio makes the point that these messages also provide content for the mind, especially emotions and feelings: “relative to the brain, the body provides more than mere support and modulation: it provides a basic topic for brain representations” (xvii). As Hayles tells us ”

The central question … is no longer how we as rational creatures should act in full possession of free will and untrammeled agency. Rather, the issue is how consciousness evolves from and interacts with the underlying programs that operate analogously to the operations of code. Whether conceived as literal mechanism or instructive analogy, coding technology thus becomes central to understanding the human condition. (44)

That great atheist dialectical materialist, Slavoj Zizek in his recent work Disparities will humor us saying that “Einstein was right with his famous claim ‘God doesn’t cheat’ – what he forgot to add is that god himself can be cheated. Insofar as the materialist thesis is that ‘God is unconscious’ (God doesn’t know), quantum physics effectively is materialist: there are microprocesses (quantum oscillations) which are not registered by the God-system. And insofar as God is one of the names of the big Other, we can see in what sense one cannot simply get rid of god (big Other) and develop an ontology without big Other: god is an illusion, but a necessary one.”2

Can we say that this necessary illusion is central to our quest to build the God Mind in our AGI’s? Are we not in fact and deed actually trying to create a god? Isn’t this truly at the heart of the artificial intelligent holy grail quest? To become machinic, to enter into the transitional stage of superintelligence, make our own pact with the impossible? For Zizek we have never been human, we’ve always been in transitional movement, that humans are in themselves absolutely nothing, without any fixed agency or stable self, that nothing pre-exists our being in the world, and that the notion of Subject is of movement toward something else. For Zizek we live in-between the Subject which is nothing in itself, and the world that we do not have direct access too. There is a crack in the world between us and reality, and all of our grand tales, our visions, our fantasies are ways in which we seek to bridge the gap between ourselves and reality. Yet, time after time our bridges built out of mathematics or language cannot bridge the gap so we build even more fantastic schemes:

This is why, from the strict Freudian standpoint, fantasy is on the side of reality, it sustains the subject’s ‘sense of reality’: when the fantasmatic frame disintegrates, the subject undergoes a ‘loss of reality’ and starts to perceive reality as an ‘irreal’ nightmarish universe with no firm ontological foundation; this nightmarish universe – the Lacanian Real – is not ‘pure fantasy’ but, on the contrary, that which remains of reality after reality is deprived of its support in fantasy.(Kindle Locations 285-288)

So once our human illusions, our fantasies are stripped from the world, what is left is the bottomless pit of nightmare —the Universe of machinic life. The endless sea of process and chaos churning on and on and on…

Reality is impenetrable not just because it transcends the constrained horizon of finite human being but also because we humans are unable to control and predict the effects on our own activity on our natural environs. Therein resides the paradox of anthropocene: humanity became aware of its self-limitation as a species precisely when it became so strong that it influenced the balance of the entire life on earth. It was able to dream of being a Subject until its influence on nature (earth) was marginal, that is, against the background of stable nature. The paradox is thus that the more the reproduction of nature is human mediated, the more humanity becomes a ‘decentred’ agent unable to regulate the process of its exchange with nonhuman nature. This is why it is not enough to insist on the nontransparency of objects, on how objects have a hidden core withdrawn from human reach: what is withdrawn is not just the hidden side of objects but above all the true dimension of the subject’s activity. The true excess is not the excess of objectivity which eludes the subject’s grasp but the excess of the subject itself, that is to say, what eludes the subject is the ‘blind spot’, the point at which it is itself inscribed into reality.3

My friend R. Scott Bakker calls this ‘blind spot’ of the Subject our inability to turn back upon ourselves and view the very processes that create consciousness —the Brain. We have no direct path toward reality, nor upon our own processes. We are blind to both reality and ourselves. Bakker defines a crash space as “a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done” (p. 203). Bakker argues, plausibly, that the cognitive and emotional structures that give meaning to our lives and constrain us ethically can be expected to work only in a limited range of environments — roughly, environments similar in their basic structure to those in our evolutionary and cultural history. Break far enough away, and our ancestrally familiar approaches will cease to function effectively. As Bakker reminds us:

Herein lies the ecological rub. The reliability of our heuristic cues utterly depends on the stability of the systems involved. Anyone who has witnessed psychotic episodes has firsthand experience of consequences of finding themselves with no reliable connection to the hidden systems involved. Any time our heuristic systems are miscued, we very quickly find ourselves in ‘crash space,’ a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done. (21)

We are living in such a domain now. We have for a few hundred years moved from our ancient heritage of Hunter/Gatherers, Agriculturalists, and emerged into a new realm both artificial and outside the confines of the natural world environments that were our base and support for millennia. Our philosophies, religions, cultural forms, our mythologies and even our instrumental reasoning powers – both cunning and rational, are no longer bound to the natural earth and environs, but rather have become unmoored within realms unforeseeable by our ancient systems of constraint and reason, our modern civilization. We’ve entered the Crash Space of Modernity in transition and our fantasies that have partially filled the gap of meaning have fallen into fragments and disarray across the planet. Our modern lives in this artificial world or urban cities, mobile to mobiles, electronic virtual realities, etc. has overtaking our ancient ties to the jungles and swamps of our ancient ancestry. Our minds have become unhinged from the natural environments, and have yet to make new ties to the urban zones of our future lives in artificial worlds.

And now we’re set to begin engineering our brains in earnest. Engineering environments has the effect of transforming the ancestral context of our cognitive capacities, changing the structure of the problems to be solved such that we gradually accumulate local crash spaces, domains where our intuitions have become maladaptive. Everything from irrational fears to the ‘modern malaise’ comes to mind here. Engineering ourselves, on the other hand, has the effect of transforming our relationship to all contexts, in ways large or small, simultaneously. It very well could be the case that something as apparently innocuous as the mass ability to wipe painful memories will precipitate our destruction. Who knows? The only thing we can say in advance is that it will be globally disruptive somehow, as will every other ‘improvement’ that finds its way to market. ( Bakker, 22)

I remember back in the seventies at university my English teacher (we still had an English Department back then! long before humanities) once said that Science Fiction was the mythology of our Age of Reason and Modernity. I still believe that is true. We are in the thousands of fictional scenarios of science fiction inventing a path forward, creating stories and tales that seek to understand and immerse us not in the past, not in character studies of Novels, but in the tools necessary to help us move steadily, calmly, and with reasoning awareness into the most impossible region of all —the Future.

As we move forward we realize we are not alone, that around us is a great host of stars, planets, galaxies unbound. The only thing stopping us from change and developing viable paths in cultural, social, politics and life is our own defective and maladaptive minds, blinded by our own immersion in these processes we have no control over and yet control us in ways beyond telling. We live by fantasy, we always have… we create meaning not out of blindly stripping reality of our minds, but by weaving meaningful fantasies based on our awakening to the new and unbidden. Only when we allow our fantasies to rule over us, to suborn us and enslave us as in ancient thought of religious and socio-cultural systems of power and knowledge that weave us into their larger frameworks like so many insectoids to do the bidding of the few rather than the many do we begin to lose sight of the power of mind and its place in the universe at large. As Bakker ominously surmises “Human cognition is about to be tested by an unparalleled age of ‘habitat destruction.’ The more we change ourselves, the more we change the nature of the job, the less reliable our ancestral tools become, the deeper we wade into crash space.” (22)


  1. Swirski, Peter. The Art and Science of Stanislaw Lem (pp. 28-29). Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition.
  2. Slavoj Žižek. Disparities (Kindle Locations 1086-1090). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
  3. ibid. (Kindle Locations 721-729).

On Slavoj Žižek: The Stranger in our Midst

The true question is not “are immigrants a real threat to Europe?”, but “what does this obsession with the immigrant threat tell us about the weakness of Europe?”
– Slavoj Žižek: What our fear of refugees says about Europe

First is their such a unity as ‘Europe’ anymore? And, to describe it as having a ‘weakness’ concerning an “obsession with the immigrant threat” tells us what exactly? Zizek, as usual, sets up a straw dog, a fictional entity against which he can begin an argument not about the economic entity known as the EU, nor of any of its member nations and their present immigration policies and politics, but rather he will draw a Lacanian comparison of psychopathology telling us this problem is like that of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy whose anti-Semitism will serve Zizek as a notation form current anti-Islamic ideology throughout many countries of the European nations.

This so to speak ideology is based on two dimensions he’ll tell us: fear “against the Islamization of Europe…”; and,  the other dimension is the humanitarian idealization of refugees. And, like the liberal democrat socialist that he’s become of late he’ll tell us of these various nations of Europe that there “is no place for negotiated compromise here; no point at which the two sides may agree”. As if this was just a matter of bringing people to the table for a nice chat, a friendly talk over the fine points of sociopathy and psychopathological inhumanity; as if we could just reason together and come up with a universal solution viable for all, etc. In fact, as he’ll suggest the task before us is none other than “to talk openly about all the unpleasant issues without a compromise with racism”. Listen to that sentence carefully “all the unpleasant issues” without “compromise with racism”, as if we should admit to ourselves openly there are unpleasant issues that must be brought out into the open without pulling us back into the old fascisms of scapegoating and exclusion that have dominated European politics for millennia; with the hint of WWII and the Nazi holocaust shadowing over all of this table talk.

Instead we should put the shoe on the other foot, why not bring the one’s in question to the table for a talk in this manner too? Zizek never even mentions such a breach in the political etiquette of negotiations, instead he mentions that arch conservative Catholic G.K. Chesterton who will remonstrate humans as the alienated animal, the animal that is not at home on earth, not at home in their body, but rather a “stranger” and alien in the midst of those nonhuman creatures we share this planet with. Then he’ll  bring it down to this notion of one’s culture, one’s “way of life” – custom, habit, law, ethics, etc., all those things that form and shape our lives in a life-world. What Lacan would call our Symbolic Order within which we move and breath like automatons of some vast network of power and knowledge (Foucault). Finally he admonishes that the “point is thus not to recognise ourselves in strangers, but to recognise a stranger in ourselves – therein resides the innermost dimension of European modernity. The recognition that we are all, each in our own way, weird lunatics, provides the only hope for a tolerable co-existence of different ways of life.”

So is this it? Is this the wisdom of Zizek? We should honor the lunacy of our stance, that seeing the stranger in ourselves is allowing the lunatic out into the light of day? As if admitting we are all raving lunatics we’ll suddenly learn to tolerate those strangers in our midst and their way of life. What wisdom is this? Has Zizek turned preacher, a sort of soap-box speaker dreaming of peace and kumbaya? We should all dance and sing around the lunatic table of our strangerhood and become brothers, sisters, children of the greater light of toleration and co-existence because of our acknowledgement of lunacy and strangerhood?

Maybe I’m a little more realistic… lunacy usually leads to dire and dark places, more violent and atrocity ridden than Zizek on his good days might imagine. I remember reading from his book, Violence another truth that is more likely to remain and cause further division:

The fundamental divide is one between those included in the sphere of (relative) economic prosperity and those excluded from it.1

That’s the real divide in all European nations, the divide between those who have and those who do not, the prosperous and the excluded poor, migrant, refugee, worker, proletariat, precarious citizen, etc. Do you think they might actually come together over that? Or, even better let all those excluded in their midst have the ability to speak for themselves at this table of economic and social negotiation? Offer all those excluded strangers in their midst, both citizen or refugee, a way to gain a real life worth living rather than just a tolerable co-existence in the midst of degradation and corruption? Maybe they should just wipe the entire debt system, start fresh, open those hidden books of the corrupt bankers in their midst, all those rich plutocrats and oligarchs, politicians and statesman, etc. who have imposed generations of austerity on the poor and excluded.


 

  1. Zizek, Slavoj (2008-07-22). Violence (BIG IDEAS//small books) (p. 102). Picador. Kindle Edition.

Notes from the Apocalypse #1

Arrogance, lack of achievement after a prosperous period, selfishness, shirking work, and liberalism, are all evils to be avoided… Liberalism is taken to mean that one may avoid conflict or work in order to be more comfortable for the moment, while the problem continues to grow.
……..– Chairman Mao to his People

“I must now shock you by telling you that we have no longer anything which you, a native of another planet, would call a government. … As a matter of fact, the history of the terrible period of transition from commercial slavery to freedom may thus be summarized. When the hope of realizing a communal condition of life for all men arose, quite late…  the power of the middle classes, the then tyrants of society, was so enormous and crushing, that to almost all men, even those who had, you may say despite themselves, despite their reason and judgement, conceived such hopes, it seemed a dream.”
………– William Morris, News From Nowhere

Our problems have grown too great, our leaders to fat and happy, our rich and elite abandon their nations going rogue and too global, and out of joint with the populations – living in their dream palaces and travel-channel yachts and deco-punk cities; the sovereignty of nations is failing, the world of boundaries dissolving, migrations hollowing out the earth in civil-war, ethnic cleansing, broken and viral epidemics, climate catastrophes…. we seem tittering on the edge of doom; and, like citizens from an alien planet wondering what will come next we watch on sadly knowing it want be good, yet believing we are powerless to alter the shape of the future…

While populism grows in Russia, the EU, and the U.S.A., a world full of middle-class fervor seeks regain its former strength and power, seeking to seize the day lest the rest of the planet sinks into a fetid quagmire of local turmoil and chaos. Racism, speciesism, the methodical hate squads arising everywhere… All the while global corporations and criminal cartels cannibalize the remaining resources of the planet, bringing death and division everywhere, seeking only to profit from war, chaos, and utter defeat. Is this a time of Apocalypse? Doom? Our pundits and experts spout cliché’s, our philosophers turn away from human affairs to the nonhuman… our young play idol video games of pure war and fantasy… our politicians bring us news of austerity and debt… and, our matinee idols of music, Hollywood, and sports live out the corruptions of late capitalism as if there were no tomorrow.

As a young man I began reading Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Marx, Hegel, Bataille, and others… realizing we we’re all failed Utopians. Pessimism is the face of Utopianism in the world today rather than Hope. Ernst Bloch once stated “Evil does not approach us as pride any more, but on the contrary as slumber, lassitude, concealment…”. One wakes up and realizes the real world has become a Reality TV series, a fantasy for a middle-class that cannot be bothered with the world’s problems but would rather wile away their hours in make-shift paradises of illusion and self-enslavement to desire and narcissistic self-love. Despair is born of hope, a dis-ease with the way things are… some of us on the Left are Marxian optimists with a vengeance, except that the world Marx once critiqued is dead and buried under a thousand flowers. In its place is an immaterial financial world, and invisible empire of risk and electronic counterfeit built on cynicism, profit, and global catastrophe. Hedging their bets against apocalypse these casino players of the new economics slip into pocket niches, playing the roulette will of capitalism with weak AI algorithms that can make or break a nation in at the speed of light.

Today we are living in the midst of Generation X’s coming of Age Party as the Middle-Class. The old structures and forms of the world based on liberal and conservative visions are dead, they were ruled by other media  and control systems than today… Generation X grew up with the net, children today even in some parts of the Third World are immersed in the net… it feeds their minds.

Yet, capitalism has migrated there, too. Colonizing the young with their capture systems, prodding them on into madness, chaos, video games, toys, global crapology… We had a chance in the 90’s to keep the net free, that’s gone… now we live in stupidland, a realm of commercial search engines that promote the fourth wave of industrialization, the second machine age, the capitalist anti-utopian future… and excess without humans… a future full of transhuman and post-human beings where auto-modification, cross-gender excess and biogenetic experimentation would make even H.G. Wells think twice…

I grew up in Podunkville U.S.A. in the fifties… the world is no longer my world… which is a good thing. Information overload may be here, but the children of our age know that and are developing tools to work this knowledge base and turn it into something that can shape and change our minds and our worlds. So, yes, I’m still a utopianist… it’s us, the oldsters who need to change, begin to listen to the youth once again. All these young philosopher wannabes are scattered across the world speaking to us of their hopes and dreams. Yet, before them there is this uncertain future of Climate Change, World Civil War, Secular and Religious turmoil, Ethnic violence everywhere, social decay… one wants to repeat Mao:

“Socialism must be developed… and the route toward such an end is a democratic revolution, which will enable socialist and communist consolidation over a length of time. It is also important to unite with the middle peasants (classes), and educate them on the failings of capitalism.”

Some saw Mao as a little too utopianist as well (cultural revolutions gone mad…), but in the above one sees a man shrewd enough to realize it was the Middle-Estate, the middle-classes that needed education and leadership… here at least in the U.S.A. the middle-class is Generation X’s coming of age party… those who were entering their teens in the 90’s are now the middle-class, and they know the difference, and are educating themselves the hard way. The democrats and republicans both speak to a middle-class that died long ago… the world has changed and neither the dems or the reps understand this. Populism seems to be the order of the day everywhere? Why? Because these middle-classes have seen themselves, their parents, and the future of their children sold down the river by thieves and scoundrels after the 2007 crash… they’ve seen the Bankers grow rich at their expense, the elite .01% walk away unscathed while they and their children gained nothing in return… this is the legacy of corruption and excess… Capitalist Utopianism at its degrading best… a legacy of doom.

I sometimes feel like one of those cranks on the street corner spouting from a soapbox the coming apocalypse. Problem is it’s not coming, it’s all around us but we can’t see it or believe what is in front of our eyes. Apocalypse from Greek apokalyptein “uncover, disclose, reveal,” a sort of mystery novel or noir disclosure of those old standbys of fate and freedom, the pendulum of time swinging on Poe’s horror flicked stage of the world. A post-cyberpunk tale replete with all the usual morbidity of normalcy. That’s the problem it is all so normal now that it’s ubiquitous, we can’t see it because it’s everywhere. We kept thinking apocalypse would be some drastic one-time event. Instead its just our normal madness. We have created a mentality that accepts as normalcy the apocalyptic time of no-time, a present without outlet. We call it global capitalism and have convinced ourselves there is no alternative. So we lie down in our pits of revenge, our hovels of critical theory and critique and poke fun from the sidelines as if we might make a difference. While the sleepers continue their sleep unaware that reality TV is no longer a fantasy.

I just keep wondering when this generation now entering their 30’s and 40’s is going to find its voice and take control of the stupidity and act before it’s too late? In our time Global Capitalism is divorcing itself from sovereign nations, tearing down the walls between Third and First world, seeking migrations as tools to further their agenda of no more democracy… the rich, elite, powerful conglomerates and corporations are creating networks, laws, systems outside the sovereignty of nations… the don’t need democracy anymore. We do! We’ll people wake up and realize this before it’s too late. The rich are abandoning sites like the EU for have cities, evil dream cities of City States around the planet where they can live in luxury and decadence unheard of while those left in the old democracies pay the bill. We seem to believe in outmoded philosophies, politics, and revolutions of emancipation from a different world. Things have changed… we no longer have the luxury of time on our side. If we do not act in this generation it truly will be too late. I know, I know… this has been said before, too many times.. by me and others… but that doesn’t make it false. What do we want? What kind of world do you want for yourself and your children?

On the Left we target a ghost, neoliberalism as if it existed, we have all our cards laid out in a line, theories, histories, economic and philosophical; yet, under it all the truth is that neoliberalism was our fantasy, our construction kit for a world that has moved on… we’re targeting and indexing an object that does not exist accept in our theories. Reality is where people live and die, not some theoretical construction kit one can model like a weather application. Oh, don’t get me wrong…. geez … we need the modeling, too. What I’m getting at is that we need to know things from the street-level, from the gut-level… we have too much theory… too much of it is now repeating the same gestures, the same idiocies, the same groove over and over again… When was the last time you read a book, an article of substance that actually had something new to say? We seem running in circles saying the same thing in new metaphors… this is hyperdecadence or hyperawareness with a vengeance. Most of the philosophical and political bric-a-brac one reads is warmed over thought from the pomo era, either castigating or promoting Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida, or German Idealisms, Heidegger-Husserl, or the analytical Sellars-Brandomonian normative pack… then all these New Materialisms, Objects, Realisms spinning out what? What is ontology getting us? Is this going to change the world for the better? Are we just following the reality game into utter doom with either our direct or indirect access to it processual or structural insanity?

Maybe I’m an old fool, my time done or nearing… Nah… I’ll keep fending off the death-squad a while longer, thank you… and, I’ll continue being a Crank, churning out my little bit of narrative disruption here and there trying to wake people up… what else can one do? I still believe in hope… I dream… I seek a way forward… a world worthy of human love… maybe I’m just a stubborn old fool, and Jesus used to say we should just “turn the other cheek,” but I’m tired of turning that cheek, tired of watching the world sink down into oblivion, I’m – as Peter Finch in Network once said:

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Think on it… notes from the Apocalypse…

 

Politics and War: Clear and Present Stupidity?

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This morning read a pundit on the Left, Slavoj Zizek on Turkey, and on the Right,  John Gray on ISIS and Syria, on the current stupidity of nations without leaders worth a dam. The Liberal West seems to be sinking fast, a world where the notion of freedom and democracy are shibboleths and icons of a bankrupt estate rather than the hard won concepts of the American and French Revolutions two-hundred years back. In an age of decline and decay when the world that many call fragile begins to waver and crumble into ruin one has to wonder what is next. For Gray a retrenchment and return to Hobbesian Leviathans, strong governments ruling with an iron fist; for Zizek, our world, being leaderless, is going the way of previous eras into slow decay and decline. Will Lacan’s Master-Signfier pop out of the wood work, a new Stalin or Hitler, some new dictator or strong man to fill the decadent vacuum for Gray’s Leviathan; or, will we just follow T.S. Eliot into that great silence where the world ends in a whimper rather than a bang?

John Gray in his article Islamist terror, security and the Hobbesian question of order tells us:

The West continues to reject co-operation with Russia on the grounds that Vladimir Putin and his client Assad are evil tyrants. From a Hobbesian standpoint, this is irrelevant. The salient question can only be: which is the greater evil? How is Assad’s dictatorship worse than a cult that abducts and rapes children, kills women it considers too old for sexual slavery, throws gay men off roofs, assassinates writers, cartoonists and Jews, murders dis­abled people in wheelchairs and razes irreplaceable cultural sites?

One really doesn’t like either choice. Maybe the answer is to clean house, replace Assad and put ISIS out of business. Oh, but that sounds like something we’ve heard before too: building democracy in the world. Has that worked? Let me count my fingers. No. Gray returns to Hobbes whose Leviathan took the hard line of support for a strong royalist State because without it there would be “no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”.

So for Gray the West has only one option, expand the State and its powers: “Concerted action against Isis on the scale that is required may not be feasible in current conditions. But even if the will to act can somehow be summoned, Isis will not go down without launching more assaults on western cities. That is why the powers of the state may need to be expanded, including restrictions on freedom that many liberals will want to reject out of hand.” Ah, the key: “restrictions on freedoms”. Where have we heard that before? War of Terror? Bush? Let’s clip the wings on our citizens, keep them safe from themselves and others: command and control, stronger law and violence. And, like the Hobbesian defender he is Gray digs in telling us: “A universal surveillance society is not a pretty prospect. Politicians who say that there is no conflict between freedom and security are deceiving themselves and us. The conflict is genuine but it is also un­avoidable. Those who want to treat liberal freedoms as sacrosanct should ask themselves what price they are willing to pay for these liberties.” The price of freedom? Being open and aware that freedom entails conflict and the realization that paranoia is not a defense against violence; being tolerant and realizing that in an open society one takes the risk. That risk is the name of the game in and Open Society? That freedom is not another word for lockdown and imprisonment, but rather for a belief that people have rights and liberties that cannot be infringed upon, that constitutions mean more than just words?

Slavoj Zizek for his part seems almost disgruntled. His article We need to talk about Turkey is so short this time one wonders if he just woke up with a bad hangover:

We are definitely dealing not with the clash of civilisations (the Christian west versus radicalised Islam), but with a clash within each civilisation: in the Christian space it is the US and western Europe against Russia, in the Muslim space it is Sunnis against Shias. The monstrosity of the Islamic State serves as a fetish covering all these struggles in which every side pretends to fight Isis in order to hit its true enemy.

So solidarity has become just another word for war by other means? We see the supposed global powers committing to non-commitments, to an uncooperative cooperation, to bombing and fly-bys without actually investing real time and energy in fighting a land based war. Of silently dispersing a nation of refugees around the planet as if this solves anything, anything at all. Zizek sees our current situation as a war of all against all, with the war on ISIS as just the staging ground for a larger global arena of war among the giants. Should one reread Gibbon on Rome rather than Hobbes on the Leviathan? What used to be called Progress has become the treadmill of a farcical repetition in stupidity and black humor. Our world is not so much a global civilization as much as it is one of Lovecraft’s slipshod gothic nightmares. Gnon is alive and well in the kingdom of Stupidity! Long live Gnon!

 

The Third Temple

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Herod watched on as they rebuilt the temple,
such as it was, a diminished thing, built
on a pattern little understood; so far removed

as it was from Solomon’s prefecture;
this vacant court where emptiness prevailed.
He’d studied these black-crested priests,

their endless prayers to the faceless God;
a cause of wonder and laughter to his Greek kindred,
who all surmised it to be a derisive patronymic larceny.

Then some startup toppled the changers stalls,
made havoc among the sacrifices, animal blood
running amock in the common soil like some dogs body.

No this would not happen in his kingdom. Such things.
So when they brought him forward that day he strangely wondered,
what man is this that can so disturb the tribes,

cause such bitter diatribes in priestly wit to absolute indifference?
He seemed a mere peasant, nothing to charm a people;
so why did so many follow this beggar from the lesser realms?

He questioned him, could see no wrong; yet, his strength
in weakness begged the question of his secret power
of conversion, this disquieting truth of a beggared love?

All he could do is have him whipped, sent away, told
to keep his mouth shut against such ways as his, the truth
he squandered so readily among the low and helpless.

Yet, his haughtiness betrayed him. Saying
he could tear down the temple, raise it in three days;
such overreaching pride, such vanity;

exactly who did he think he was, anyway,
this son of Yahweh? O come now,
such things were ludicrous, one knew it was imaginative;

such things as gods were but the tools of Kings, governing,
bringing sway over the unlearned, the dark minded believers.
Even he, Herod, an unbeliever would not kill such innocence,

he washed his hands of it; only that Baptist, the one his daughter
encased on the silver platter, Herodias; even she stained him,
made him feel ill at ease among such ghostly favors, a silent anguish.

So in the end he let them have their way with him, this vagrant rabbi;
let them take him, humiliate him, bring him to the place of skulls.
What did it matter to him? This man, blameless or truant? Guilty, of what?

Yet, the memory of the man’s eyes: undeceiving, clear, strangely lit
as if he knew what was coming; as if he’d foreseen it all, providentially.
It was this alone that forced his hand, forced him to slay the man.

All that mattered was the rule of law, his law; a world ruthless and brutal.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Between Badiou and Valery: The Poetics of Subtraction and Dissemination

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I like those lovers of poetry who venerate the goddess with too much lucidity to dedicate to her the slackness of their thought and the relaxation of their reason.
…….– Paul Valery, The Art of Poetry

Paul Valery makes the point between philosophical language and the poetic utterance in his essay The Poet’s Rights over Language stating that for poetry to remain distinct and at variance to the transitive power of intellect and its propositional expediency it must “preserve itself, through itself, and remain the same, not be altered by the act of intelligence that finds or gives it a meaning“.1

Yet, none other than Alain Badiou will tell us that poetry is receding into the ether, disappearing among its own forgotten traces, that culture and civilization are no longer tempted too the feigned art of secular gnosis, the untapped light of its disquieting thought.

Poetry, alas, is receding from us. The cultural account is oblivious to poetry. This is because poetry can hardly stand the demand for clarity, the passive audience, the simple message. The poem is an exercise in intransigence. It is without mediation, and thus also without mediatization. The poem remains rebellious – defeated in advance – to the democracy of audience ratings and polls.2

One wonders if Badiou is ridiculing the democratic impulse, or bewailing the fact that we’ve all become morons unable to decipher the difference between poetic language and the mass mediatization of reality that seems so pervasive in our degraded civilization of Rock stars and Hollywood Prima donnas. Badiou like a good Platonist seeks the Good Life elsewhere, somewhere between the purity of the matheme and the condition of Love.

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Mario Vargas Llosa: The Corruption and Death of Culture and the Intellectual

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Fine taste among the generality of men of letters can exist only while it is still uncorrupted.
 …….– Giacomo Leopardi,  Zibaldone

In a dismal and otherwise dismissive tone that monarch of literary taste, T.S. Eliot once suggested that in a “formless age there is very little hope for the minor [author]* to do anything worth doing”.1 As if literature had been all used up, the formulations and forms of all past literary endeavors brought to such a final perfection that there was no need to continue, literature was now exhausted; completed, finis. He would also speak of the need of great criticism, of the development of sensibility and a true sense of literary taste or critical awareness, of the need for an aristocracy of letters that would give birth of a “higher culture” from which a new future would arise guided by a resolute and innovative absorption of the past rather than its dissolution. He would castigate those like Walter Pater as non-critics, as aesthetes of literature – by which he meant mere appreciators who through their “arid cleverness build theoretical scaffolds upon one’s own perceptions,” a formless waste and accumulation of a mass of unstructured nonsense. While for him the “really appreciative mind” allows perceptions to form themselves as a structure, and criticism is the “statement in language of this structure; it is the development of sensibility.”

Harold Bloom who despised T.S. Eliot’s criticism and reactionary politics as that “Eliotic cant” would develop the opposing trend of a Romantic formlessness that followed Pater rather than Eliot. Against his own immediate precursor Northrup Frye (whose work on William Blake Fearful Symmetry and Anatomy of Criticism would haunt Bloom throughout his career), Bloom shows the uneasy relationship between what many term the Platonic and Anti-Platonic stance in life, literature and thought that has been a leitmotif running through Western Culture and Civilization like a bitter and relentless war between two sensibilities – the Traditionalist, upholder of classicism and the past; and, the Romantic gnostic, the rebel and outrider of passion and the wildness of freedom and a knowing that is no longer constrained by the dictates of reason and tradition. A movement between order and chaos, form and formlessness, taste and sensibility, structure and process, being and becoming – that has littered the intellectual diminishment and pursuits of men of letters from the beginning to now. These two tendencies at war in our culture from the beginning have navigated and plundered the riches of ancient days and now installed themselves in the political sphere of our current malaise and ennui threatening to destroy and annihilate each other in some coming bloodbath, a literal immersion in those ancient textual universe of Dante and Milton. A literalization of that old world of Manichean dualism of a war of all against all.

This battle between innovation and tradition, progress and refinement has led to a heated and turbulent history in recent times. The notions of Literary Canons, of inclusion and exclusion, of literary racism and speciesism, the politicization of literature itself rather than its aesthetic appeal. The use and abuse of culture in the education of our children, etc. The deep divide over just “whose” culture should rule our so to speak mental worlds of thought and belief. While others would wipe the slate clean, burn the archive, dismantle the “dead white” world of European cultural imperialism, etc. As if the past of culture were an enemy that must now be expunged, rewritten, revised from a minoratarian standpoint, alleviating centuries of oppression and exclusion, rewriting the textbooks of all past eras to redress the wrongs of those victimized and abused at the expense of art and intellect. Others would offer a conclusion far different, stating flatly that these so called cultural wars were nothing but the graveyard of bitter and dissatisfied, resentful literati and leftists who wanted nothing better than destroy the past for their own selfish aggrandizement, to bury the dead white world of man and men who for far too long had held power over thought and life.

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